21 November 2008
23 Cheshvan 5769
I have just landed in Israel to bring home the members of our Junior class who have been here for the trimester. It is wonderful to be in Israel, even for such a short visit, and it was great to be reunited with our students, who appear very happy.
As many of you might already have heard from your children, before I left on Wednesday I addressed our students, faculty and staff about the importance of our choices and the consequences of our actions. In light of a recent disciplinary incident, I shared with our community the words of Deuteronomy 30:19: “. . . natati lefanecha habracha v’haklala u’vacharta bachayim . . . I put before you the blessing and the curse, and you shall choose life . . .” I explained that, to me, these words highlight two essential principles of Judaism: our actions have consequences, sometimes severe consequences for us and for others; and, we have the freedom to choose how we act and to affect the consequences of our actions.
As individuals, we have the responsibility to make wise and healthy choices about our own lives, our health and our well-being. As members of a community, we have the added responsibility to watch out for and care for others around us, and to make important, sometimes difficult choices to help others when we see that they are making choices that might be harmful to themselves or the community. Rarely does a student find him or herself facing serious disciplinary consequences because of one bad choice. Often it is the result of many bad choices; it also can be the result of others’ choices not to intervene or inform an adult who could help.
As a school, we also make choices. We set rules and expectations that stem from our commitment and responsibility to the safety and well-being of our entire community. When individuals break these rules in ways that could harm themselves and others, we sometimes need to make painful and difficult choices about whether these individuals can remain in our school. We take these decisions extremely seriously as we strive to put the best interests of each and every child at the center, while fulfilling our responsibility to the best interests and well-being of the entire student body.
I also reminded our students about our school’s policies about drugs and illegal substances. I reminded them that use of these substances is illegal and potentially harmful to their bodies and their minds. And I reminded them that should they make the choice to use illegal substances or, even more egregiously, to bring them to school, there will be serious consequences. In particular, I emphasized to our students that selling, buying or taking prescription drugs – those that many of our students and their siblings might take for very important medical reasons – without a prescription is illegal, can be extremely dangerous, and from the school’s perspective, is as serious as taking any other kind of drug or illegal substance.
After my talk, our students had the opportunity to process these issues in advisor groups, where they shared feelings, questions and concerns that we will continue to address as we process and learn together. Needless to say, these are difficult moments for our community and for me, as we wrestle with our sacred task of nurturing and caring for the individual souls in our community and for our collective soul as well. It is in these moments when I find myself asking God for strength and clarity, despite the nuance and complexity of the world in which we live. And it is in these moments that I am profoundly grateful for the wisdom, support and care of so many in our community – teachers, administrators, students and parents.
This kind of all-school address is really just a beginning, intended to raise our consciousness about our choices and our responsibilities, and to generate communal reflection and conversation. I encourage parents and students to continue these conversations with each other, and I certainly look forward to creating more opportunities to continue the conversation with students, teachers and parents as well. May we take seriously the power of our choices and the consequences of our actions; and, especially during challenging times, may we continue to watch out for and take care of ourselves, each other, and our community.
Rabbi Marc Baker